As a student studying English, the one question that everyone tends to ask is: what are you going to do with it? Who are you going to be? It’s definitely something to think about, a loaded question really. Maybe a writer, maybe a student of life. All year I’ve contemplated this question as I took survey courses on the exposition of literary work spanning from the 14th to 20th century.
To be frank, I was even wondering what the relevance of literature or writing are in a postmodern world. How could the words of a literary canon that consists of mostly white men and women prepare for a world that emphasizes productivity in numbers.
Taking influence by other blogs and words that others have written – some that denounce the possibility of happiness as a writer, some that praise the attempt to humanize oneself – I choose neither to explain why I chose this route.
More specifically, it makes me think of a time in middle school when I was sitting in English class, snoozing away Mr. Hampa’s lesson on grammar and syntax. To be fair, the man was in his 60s and probably felt just as bored as I was. I looked over at my classmate next to me. She had a copy of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was the same book that had been occupying her desk for the last two quarters (we were in our third).
“Still?” I pointed at her book.
“Yeah, I just can’t seem to get through it” she replied.
Nowadays, in this social media age that qualifies curiosity on the level of stalking, I noticed pictures of her life in college: mostly hanging with her girls and enjoying the scene. It makes me wonder: did she ever finish that book?
Anyway, back to the topic, I was in class twirling my pencil and talking to my classmate. From what I remember, Mr. Hampa asked why we were having a tough time paying attention. He seemed to agree with this because he then switched to a different topic. He shuffled his papers at his desk that sat in the center at the front, right in front of the whiteboard.
“These are your stories that I asked you to write a few weeks ago.”
Everyone suddenly sunk into their seats.
“Yes, some of you need some work,” he said. “Trevor himself came to me last week so you should follow his lead.”
Trevor with his wire framed glasses and middle-parted hair left his mouth open revealing a pair of bucked tooth teeth.
Mr. Hampa continued on with the topic of Trevor, bookending his embarrassment by saying “Yes, Trevor wrote a wonderful piece on his experiences as a ballet dancer.
A few snickers scattered in the room. By the looks of his face, it didn’t phase Trevor. He held his frame in a straightened position as if he was on the stage ready to twist and twirl.
“And since you all are bored of the lesson right now, I’m gonna go ahead and read some of your work.”
Considering that Mr. Hampa’s lessons were usually dry, it was unusual that he would do this. But to be fair, he did try to do fun things – like that time he showed us “Dead Poet’s Society.” That movie left a bad taste in some our mouths, because Neil, one of the characters, killed himself near the end all because his father didn’t let him pursue acting as a career. His dad was Red from That 70s Show, so it wasn’t a surprise to me.
Mr. Hampa shuffled the papers around again and pulled one of the stapled papers from the pile like a magician in the street. He must’ve dabbled with card tricks back in his day. He cleared his throat and held silent finger up to his mouth.
“I remember when I walked her home . . .”
“It was after the middle school dance.”
No. No. No.
“I arrived at the school dance with my boys. There was Donnie, Marc . . .”
I stopped twirling my pencil. I put my head down for the remainder of the story. Whether it was a true story or not, I did not want anyone to hear it.
“When ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ started playing, I asked her for a dance.”
Hearing that made me want to curse my ears for even thinking it was a good song in the first place. After all she was the one who liked that song, so, technically, I liked it by association.
“When the night ended, she asked me to walk her home. I let my friends know that I was walking ______ home.”
That wasn’t entirely true. After the dance she went home with her friends to do who knows what. I went home and watched Attack of the Show and ate chips in my boxers.
“Before she closed the door to go back inside, she turned around . . .”
It started feeling hot in the room. I turned my eyes to the AC unit in the corner, but in the process, I noticed that everyone in class were sitting up straight. Instead of sinking in their chairs, they leaned forward to get another bit of what was to happen next. This was strange to me, because most of it was fictionalized.
Mr. Hampa continued reading the story.
“And she said,” he said with a pause. “I’ll see you later.’”
Mr. Hampa put down the paper and looked up. Then one of my classmates, not the one sitting next to me, blurted out:
Another joined in.
“WHAT HAPPENED!?!? THAT WAS IT!?
“I’m afraid so,” Mr. Hampa replied.
I scratched my head and looked at classmate next to me. She stared straight, not noticing that I was looking at her. It seemed that every one else in class was just as invested as her, even Trevor still in his swan-like posture.
“Who wrote it?” she asked.
“Somebody in class . . .”
“AHHHHHHH” everyone said collectively.
“Okay! Let’s go back to crunching grammar!” he said.
Before standing up to write on the whiteboard, Mr. Hampa turned his eyes towards me. He winked, stood up, and continued with his lesson until the end of class.
Maybe that’s what I want to do with my English Major one day.
Be Mr. Hampa.